Our early departure from Lake Tahoe meant a new plan was in order. The snow, ice & rain expected to blanket the area extended far into Nevada, effectively putting the brakes on our idea to travel south through the state. A quick cross-reference of Google Maps and various weather apps showed that our best bet for avoiding most of the storm was to head south on Hwy 395. Not a bad plan at all!
Ever since we spent a month traveling this much-revered route in the fall of 2013, we’ve been dreaming of a return trip. Over the past year, I’ve tried to route us there a few times but other plans always get in the way. Either it’s too far, too cold, too hot, too crowded, or simply inconvenient. Until now. Now it was simply the most logical route to take and with the dry weather sticking around and warmer temperatures forecasted for the Bishop area, we decided a short stop on our way south would be the perfect re-routing plan.
For a tiny town, Bishop has a surprisingly large selection of camping options. There’s a private park, a fairground camping area, several town parks, a BLM campground, and some really great boondocking options. Last time, we boondocked for a few weeks in an area called the volcanic tablelands. No complaints and we would go back there in a second, but we were wanting to try something new, so this time we headed over to Buttermilk Road in hopes of scoring a spot with killer mountain views.
Buttermilk Road is a VERY popular, well-known area for bouldering. If you’re not familiar with bouldering, it’s basically a simpler form of rock climbing done on smaller rocks with no safety equipment except for a mattress looking thing at the bottom to cushion your fall. From what I can tell, bouldering has a wide appeal because it doesn’t require as much equipment and has a fairly low barrier of entry for beginners. While I’ve never been one to look at sheer rock cliff and think, “hmm..I’d like to climb up that”, I really, really love scampering around on rocks so bouldering holds some appeal for me. Maybe someday I’ll try it.
Anyway, we knew it was a popular area with the bouldering crowd, but as it was the end of November with overnight temperatures in the 20s, how busy could it be? I mean, what crazy person suffers through 20-degree nights just to climb a few rocks? College students, that’s who. Lots, and lots, and lots of college students. It wasn’t until we drove 5 miles down the washboard dirt road to discover nearly every spot already taken that it dawned on us that this was the week of Thanksgiving which meant all those climbing loving college students from the LA area were here on Buttermilk Road. Bad timing on our part.
Here’s where I admit that we did a stupid thing. Instead of turning around at the last convenient spot, we kept driving up the road in hopes of finding an open area where we could set up camp. We were monitoring the satellite view on Google Maps and could see that the road narrowed, but we were desperate to find a spot and stupidly decided to drive just a little farther to what looked on the map to be a decent sized pull-through turnaround.
Except it was not decent sized at all and we nearly got stuck while trying to make the tight turn. The scary part was when the truck started sliding sideways on the uphill turn and even with the 4-wheel drive engaged, we couldn’t get enough traction in the soft sand to move forward or back. I’ll spare you all the details and swear words that were uttered, but eventually, we managed to get out of the precarious situation and back on the road. I ran up the road on foot, found a t-shaped intersection that looked big enough to turn around in and ran back to tell Tim. We got ourselves turned around, drove back down the road, and pulled into the first open spot we came upon just as dark was falling (it was only 3:30 pm but the sun goes behind the mountains very early there).
The funny- not funny- thing is that the only other time we have come that close to getting stuck with the Airstream was also in Bishop when we drove down a different dirt road without scouting it on foot first. If anything, it was a good reminder to follow the rules and practices we already know to be correct.
The spot where we ended up was fantastic in all ways except one. Excellent view of the mountains? Check. A playground of rocks in our backyard? Check. Blazing fast cell service? Check. A crazy amount of traffic driving past us all day long? Check! The downside to our spot was that was located just down the road from the large parking lot for the main bouldering area. That meant we had the privilege of watching cars and vans (so many vans) stream past us on their way to and from the boulders. The traffic was busiest from 8-10 am and then again from about 3-5pm which wasn’t terrible, but if we returned, a spot past the parking lot would be preferred.
It was a short stay of only four days so I don’t have any real adventures to share. With the sun sliding behind the mountains at 3:15 our activities were pretty limited but we did manage to get out a few days in a row for some hiking around our backyard.
We also indulged in burgers and fries at the famous Burger Barn. In fact, it was the first thing we did after finally settling into our spot. Bishop has a ton of restaurants and the last time we tried an almost embarrassing number of them. These days we eat out a lot less often, but I don’t think it would be possible for us to come through the area and not visit the Burger Barn. It was just as delicious as we remembered!
Our last day in Bishop fell on Thanksgiving. We planned to drive up to Lake Sabrina for a hike followed by a simple homemade meal of harvest salad and almond crusted chicken. It had rained overnight and when we awoke in the morning to find a dusting of snow!
We were right on the edge of the snowline and it disappeared only hours later, but it was still thrilling to see. At some point, snow has become a novelty for us (not something I ever thought I would write) and as long as we’re not going to get stuck in it, we welcome a little of the fluffy white stuff from time to time.
Despite the strong sun, it was pretty cold so we bundled up in all our layers and drove up to Lake Sabrina for a winter hike. This is what we found when we go there.
From the gate, it was less than two miles to the lake so we figured we could at least make it there and at attempt a short hike around it. Nope, wrong again. The wind was funneling down the canyon and blowing so hard that at times we couldn’t even see in front of us. We only made it half a mile before turning around.
Since we were still bundled up and ready for a hike we drove back down the road, turned on South Lake Rd. and followed it until we reached another road closed gate. It was less windy here so we decided to try walking on the closed road again. There is a reservoir at the end of the road, but it’s pretty far so the chances of us making it all the way were slim. We ended up walking about 3 miles before turning around. It was cold and windy at times, but with wintery beauty all around us we couldn’t help but feel lucky that we got to enjoy a snowy Thanksgiving.
Our current plan for next spring and early summer (subject to change, of course) is to spend a few months along 395 and this short stay was a great reminder of how much we love the area. But now…it’s time to warm up and dry out in the desert!